5 Author Lessons from Steampunk Worlds Fair

Photo of me shillin' my little heart out, courtesy Chris Garrison.
Photo of me shillin’ my little heart out, courtesy Chris Garrison.

This weekend, I worked at the Steampunk World’s Fair as part of the 3 Fates Press / Line by Lion Publications booth. It was an intense learning experience. I wanted to capture some of my thoughts and impressions, which might be useful for other writers, while they’re still relatively fresh in my addled brains.

Lesson 1: Know why you’re there. 

You may have noticed I said “worked” as opposed to “attended” in the previous paragraph. That word choice is intentional. I spent almost the entire time working in the booth. This was by choice. K.A. DaVur, who runs 3F/LBL, kept encouraging me to rest or go check out the fair. But when people are willingly coming up and talking to you about your books, or asking you to sign the ones they’ve purchased, the appeal of a panel discussion or a Story Slam is diminished.  At least, for me it is. YMMV.

Lesson 2: Work out details as much as you can, but don’t expect everything to go as planned.

Lots of things didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. A book I have out from another publisher, which would have been a great fit for this event, didn’t make it in time. I probably didn’t need to purchase an attendee ticket, since there were enough Vendor badges from the booth for all the authors who made it out. The drive took substantially longer than anticipated, in both directions. It’s good to look forward to an event, get psyched and excited, but temper your expectations against reality or you’ll be dealing with a lot of disappointment.

Lesson 3: The 6 Hour Rule

I was on the fence about posting this one, because the event really did well from a sales perspective. Like, it did “got a hand cramp from autographing books” well. I suspect some of that was due to the fact that it was a huge steampunk convention, and all my books are steampunk fiction. You couldn’t possibly have asked for a bigger, more targeted audience for my work, and steampunk is still too niche to have big dedicated Cons in every city. But moving forward, I’m going to follow the 6 Hour Rule from my days traveling for business with ad agencies. For any trip longer than 6 hours by car, get a plane ticket or don’t go. Just. Don’t. Go. 

For one thing, the longer the road trip, the more likely it is you’ll encounter construction, traffic, car failure or other issues that can turn the estimated 10-12 hours you think you can handle into a 16-20 hour Bataan Death Drive. (Or a horrible, endless game of Desert Bus. HT to Chris Garrison).

Even if a 10-12 hour drive goes as planned, you simply don’t have the energy you’re going to need to (A) enjoy and be your best self at the event, (B) drive safely home the same distance after long days of standing and working a Con, and (C) recuperate for work the next day. OOHology has been wonderfully supportive about my fiction writing. I need to respect that by making sure my Con attendance doesn’t turn into a problem for them. Lesson learned.

Lesson 4: Prepare physically

This smile made possible by two weeks of working up to standing for 8 hours a day.
This smile made possible by 2 weeks of working up to standing for 8 hours/day.

Writers are often sedentary desk jockeys. I actually learned this lesson at last year’s SDCC, when I got to work the Marvel booth. Working a Con booth is serious physical labor. You are on your feet, often outdoors on unforgiving asphalt or a concrete convention hall floor, for eight to twelve hour days. In this case, in a steel-boned corset and boots with heels.

I started preparing by switching to a standing desk at work, and getting some extra walking in for the past two weeks. Consequently, even after a grueling Saturday, I didn’t feel like I was going to die the next day. Which is how I felt after Day 1 of Comic Con.

Lesson 5: It Ain’t Show Friends, It’s Show Business

Don’t get me wrong. Strong friendships are forged at events and on road trips among writers, readers and publishing folks. But one realization I had this weekend is that this is a business. A lot of writers, even some who’ve been published and sold some books, maintain a hobbyist mindset. Working a Con means having to think about things like keeping your receipts for tax purposes, keeping straight which books you brought versus which books your publisher brought, etc.

It’s like the difference between a garage band who never leaves their garage, and one where the members have to deal with booking venues, keeping track of money, loading and unloading the van, and weighing the cost of a hotel room versus putting on a good performance that’ll sell CDs and tees. They’re both artists, but it’s a hobby for one. It’s a business to the other, even if it never turns a profit.

Left with chest of books. Returned with chest of hats. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Left with chest of books. Returned with chest of hats. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

So those are my major lessons learned from this experience. I’m glad I went. I had a good time, met some wonderful people, sold a lot of books, and bought three excellently impractical tiny hats.

I also plan to work the 3 Fates Press booth at the Kentucky Renaissance Fair this summer, June 21-22 for the Steampunk themed weekend and the following weekend while K.A. DaVur is at the Frederick Book Festival.  I’ll also be doing panels and workshops at The Imaginarium this Fall.

Cons are a great opportunity to meet passionate fans of your genre and avid readers who might be interested in your books. If you approach them in a smart way, they can be a great way to start building your fan base as an author.

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